Magazine article Science News

A New Flash of Lightning Theory

Magazine article Science News

A New Flash of Lightning Theory

Article excerpt

"I can quit drinking anytime I want to--I've done it hundreds of times."

That old comic one-liner illustrates the all-or-nothing nature of alcoholism described in a new study of problem drinkers. John E. Helzer and his co-workers at Washington University in St. Louis report that less than 2 percent of 1,065 alcoholics were controlled, "social" drinkers five to seven years after receiving treatment for their problem.

"This study suggests that there is little cause for optimism about the likelihood of an evolution to long-term, stable, moderate drinking among treated alcoholics," say the researchers in the June 27 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.

A previous research project indicated that alcoholics could be taught with behavior therapy to become moderate drinkers, but its methods and results were criticized by several investigators (SN: 10/11/82, p. 168).

Helzer and his colleagues conducted personal interviews, reviewed records, or both, for alcoholics treated at any of four St. Louis-area medical and psychiatric facilities between 1973 and 1975. Nearly 79 percent were still drinking heavily, while 15 percent never drank alcohol, 4.6 percent alternated between moderate drinking and abstinence and only 1. …

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